November 13, 2017 Last Updated 1:52 pm

Letter to FCC Inspector General requests investigation into agency’s chairman, actions to benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group

Two House Democrats say Chairman Pai has refused to respond to request for information regarding reports that the FCC has taken actions specifically to assist the broadcaster

Two Democratic representatives today called for an investigation into possible ties between Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Sinclair Broadcast Group. The two, Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), say that Chairman Pai has repeatedly refused to respond to congressional inquiries about actions taken by the FCC that they say may have benefited Sinclair.

Sinclair is looking to complete an acquisition of Tribune Media Company which would substantially increase the number of markets the local broadcast station owner would be in.

“The Chairman has repeatedly refused to adequately respond to Congressional inquiries on this subject,” Representatives Pallone and Cummings wrote in their letter to the FCC Inspector General David L. Hunt. HHis refusals – contrary to his stated commitment to be responsive to all Congressional members – only increase our concerns.”

The FCC is also looking to loosen media ownership rules that would then allow for the ownership of multiple media outlets in the same market such as owning a newspaper and television station, or radio and television.

Here is the press release regarding the letter, as well as a link to a PDF of the letter below:


WASHINGTON, DC — November 13, 2017 — Members Request Investigation Into Whether FCC Chairman Has Taken Improper Actions to Benefit Pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcast Group

Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Inspector General David L. Hunt today requesting an investigation into whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has taken improper actions to benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Chairman Pai has repeatedly refused to respond to congressional inquiries about recent reports that he may have timed a series of FCC actions over the past year to financially benefit Sinclair and to assist in its attempts to purchase Tribune Media Company.

Chairman Pai has also refused to answer whether he or his staff use personal accounts or messaging services to communicate with or about Sinclair.  In their letter, Pallone and Cummings outlined a series of actions taken by Chairman Pai that may have been intended to benefit Sinclair, including:

  • reinstating an outdated rule called the UHF discount, which is necessary for Sinclair to proceed with its acquisition of Tribune;
  • proposing to allow the TV industry to transition to a new digital standard, which could provide billions of dollars in licensing fees to Sinclair through its patent holdings;
  • eliminating rules that would require local broadcast stations to maintain a physical presence in the market in which it operates; and
  • planning a vote later this month to significantly change the existing broadcast media ownership limits, which would remove virtually all remaining obstacles to Sinclair increasing its reach beyond the Tribune merger proposal.

“All of these actions – when taken in context with reported meetings between the Trump Administration, Sinclair, and Chairman Pai’s office – have raised serious concerns about whether Chairman Pai’s actions comply with the FCC’s mandate to be independent,” Pallone and Cummings wrote to Inspector General Hunt.  “We request that you examine how the FCC has conducted its business with regard to Sinclair.”

Specifically, Pallone and Cummings request that the Inspector General find answers to the following questions:

  • Whether actions taken by the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership show a pattern and practice of preferential treatment for Sinclair, and
  • Whether a series of interactions between Chairman Pai’s office, the Trump Campaign and Trump Administration, and Sinclair demonstrate inappropriate coordination, including whether use of nongovernmental email and/or social media messaging tools complied with the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Pallone has sent a series of letters to Chairman Pai requesting information on allegations of improper coordination with Sinclair, however, Pai has failed to provide sufficient answers and has refused to provide copies of correspondence between FCC staff and Sinclair officials.

“The Chairman has repeatedly refused to adequately respond to Congressional inquiries on this subject,” Pallone and Cummings wrote in their letter.  “His refusals – contrary to his stated commitment to be responsive to all Congressional members – only increase our concerns.”

A copy of the letter is available HERE.

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